6 Tips for Painting on Canvas

6 Tips for Painting on Canvas

A blank canvas is a great opportunity, but it can also be a source of stress. Even if you’re full of ideas about what to paint, how should you go about it, exactly? These tips for painting on canvas will set you on the right track.

You’ll find canvas in all kinds of things, from sails to backpacks to marquees. In the painting world, it’s usually stretched on a wooden frame. You can purchase pre-stretched canvases or stretch your own.

Canvas is a wonderful surface for painting with acrylic and oil paint: It’s sturdy, lightweight and affordable. When treated with gesso, it is also archival.

These eight tips for painting on canvas will be invaluable to beginners, but even seasoned artists might discover something new.

1. Prepare Your Canvas

First, stretch your canvas or use a pre-stretched canvas. It probably sounds obvious,  I’ve seen people paint on a canvas that’s wrapped in plastic — so, yes, unwrap the plastic from your canvas.

2. Set The Mood with a Tonal Background Color

In addition to gesso, you can consider applying an all-over tone to your canvas to instantly set a mood in your painting.

For instance, a bright white canvas might not be conducive to a moody, stormy painting, but a coat of a light gray can give you a more moody surface for creating your desired look.

3. Set Up Your Canvas and Supplies

How are you going to paint — physically? Do you prefer an easel, where the canvas can be upright or at a slight angle? Or do you work better with the canvas on a flat surface, right next to your palette?

There’s no right or wrong, but you’ll make your life and painting much easier if you set up your workspace in advance. Have your paint brushes, palette knives, water and any other painting supplies you think you’ll need at the ready. The small amount of time it takes to assemble this “mise en place” will make the painting process far more pleasant.

4. Choose Appropriate Brushes

Certain brushes are better for canvas painting than others.For instance, your delicate watercolor brushes will get eaten alive on the sturdy canvas surface. They’re too soft and delicate to apply paint assertively.

In general, brushes specifically designed acrylic or oil paint will be a better choice, with longer handles and stiff bristles to both hold and spread the thicker paint better on canvas.

5. Create an Underpainting

Since canvas is typically used for opaque paints, it’s a great opportunity to experiment with underpainting. This is a method of creating an outline, often in an opposing color, that can add depth to your finished piece even if it won’t be directly visible once you’re finished.

6. Adjust Colors Appropriately

While oil paints will dry about the same color as they look when applied, acrylic paint will dry slightly darker than it looks while you’re painting. Adjust your color mixes accordingly so that the finished piece isn’t darker than you want it to be. You can test the end result before you take paint to canvas by painting a little bit of a color a piece of scrap paper and seeing how dark the swatch dries.

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